Hozu-Gawa River: The Long Way to Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest

I jumped out as soon as the train stopped and the doors opened and I dashed through the turnstiles to beat every other passenger heading towards the exit. I couldn’t contain my excitement to see the famous Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama. I already imagined myself in the middle of the forest with my samurai sword slicing through the bamboo stems with just one skillful slash.

Just kidding…I was just hoping to get a good “selfie” in the middle of the Bamboo Forest sans the other tourists.

I asked for a map from the information kiosk and this guy pulled out a piece of paper with a hand-drawn map. At first I thought that it was just a flyer with general information about Arashiyama but then I realized that he wasn’t kidding, it was the actual map! It looked like a treasure-hunt map made by a grade school kid. Not even close to what a theme park map looks like. It wasn’t much but I found beauty in its simplicity. The kind of beauty that would ultimately give me comfort as I navigate the streets of this quaint little district of Kyoto.

Arashiyama Map

I stepped out of the train station at almost the same time the city bus had made one of its stops there and was almost(yes, almost) tempted to hop into that bus and get to the Bamboo Forest earlier than I would have but then I decided to take my time and just walk since it didn’t look too far away on the map. Come to think of it, every place on the map is within a fingerbreadth.

A left on the first corner and a right on the next brought me to a large, empty are with a 360-degree postcard-worthy view. Cotton clouds complementing the blue sky on one side, and an endless hue of greens hanging from the mountainside on another. Not to mention the tranquil sound of the unhindered flow of the river.

View from Togetsu-kyo Bridge

It took me a few minutes to snap out of the trance-like awe I found myself in as I humbly stood in the midst of it all. When I finally did, I crossed the bridge to the other side of the river and there I was, a few steps away from what I really came there for – The Bamboo Forest.

Cursed with a fickle mind and a restless soul, everything changed as soon as I got to the other side of the bridge. I took out a partially torn flyer from my pocket. It was a hand-me-down from a nice Taiwanese girl at the hostel the night before. That was after I overheard her sharing her river cruise experience with another hostel mate.

Instead of going straight to the Bamboo Forest, I decided to walk the opposite way and through small, quiet alleys that led to the JR Saga Arashiyama station. When I got there, a slight hesitation took over as I checked the prices on the ticket counters. I didn’t know if I wanted to spend JPY5,000($41) for a detour plus the idea of boarding the “Romantic Train” just isn’t really that appealing when you’re travelling alone.

Romantic Train

 

You probably know what happened next…

…and you’re right!

I boarded the tram anyway. One of the best decisions I’ve made throughout this trip. The scenery was so amazing that I wished for the tracks to Kameoka to be a little bit longer. I would then settle for that just because an infinite track was too much to ask. I found the romance I was hoping for. It wasn’t just a temporary flirt with nature nor was it any less than a spring-fling with something unrealistically beautiful. It was a beautiful romance that stuck with me to this day. A beautiful reminder of why I choose to travel alone. Because ironically, I am never alone. I’ve been in this romantic relationship with “Gaia” all along.

Hozu-gawa River

Katsura River

 

“All good things must come to an end”

 

…sometimes to give way for better things to happen.

Riverboat

Just a few minutes later, I had to get off the tram and catch the bus that would take me to the Shin-hozu Ohashi Bridge – the boarding site for the cruise down Hozu-gawa River. The trip that sprung out from a mind that couldn’t quite stick to a decision is beginning to shape up into one of those “too good to be true” detours…and it only kept getting better.

Start of Hozu-gawa River Cruise

Green Mountainsides

Just a few moments later, I was cruising down the very river that I astonishingly watched and praised from the windows of the Romantic Train. Travelling another 16-kilometers back to Arashiyama on the same path and the same distance but this time, from a different mode of transport and a completely different perspective. The strong current towed our 15-seater boat back to Arashiyama as our guides incessantly paddled the boat into its safe course and away from the boulders. Throughout the whole cruise, I was constantly entertained by interesting rock formations that resembled some very familiar things. Rocks that looked like the pages of a book, another shaped like a lion and even a rock that looked like the cartoon character “Snoopy”. The rock formations were so similar to the characters that I knew what they were even if I didn’t understand a single word our Japanese-speaking guides were saying.

Splash

Rapids

I endured the heat of the sun at high noon, the frigid waters splashing in my face and the occasional collisions with the river boulders that dwarfed our boat. But whatever I had to endure was all made worthwhile by the breathtaking view of the lush mountainsides surrounding the Hozu-gawa River and more importantly, that rewarding feeling of finally arriving at your destination. I may not have gotten there before everyone else to take that “unphotobombed selfie” of the Bamboo Forest but the scenic path I took reminded me of the unrivaled beauty of your own spontaneity, a beauty I keep going back to every single day.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

What was supposed to a 1-kilometer walk turned into a 3-hour, 32-kilometer joyride. But it was definitely one for the books. After all, cliché as it may sound, “Life is not about the Destination, It’s about the Journey”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a detour that gave me a taste of what heaven is all about. A detour that connected me to my brother once more. A trip of reassurance that lightened my heart to know that he is enjoying a view like this, maybe even better. A view that is…..well, HEAVINLY!

Happy Birthday Brother!

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